The Stain

Here’s a little story I wrote on Monday at Holmfirth Writers Group.  The brief we were given was simply “You find a stain …”  This is what I made of it.


“Hello, Mr Weston. Is it all right if I come in?”

He looks unenthusiastic.

“It’s nothing to worry about. There are just a few changes to the rental agreement I need to talk through with you. It’ll only take ten minutes.

“Well, OK then, I suppose.”

He stands aside to let me in and I walk through into the living room.

“My word, this place looks spotless!” And it is – there’s not a speck of dust in sight. Everything is neat and tidy. And there is a faint smell of paint in the air. I must admit, this is not what I’ve come to expect of Mr Weston over the years. He is not renowned as the most houseproud of tenants. Perhaps he’s turned over a new leaf?

“Um, yeah. Decided to do a bit of decorating.”

“Good for you. New carpet too, if I’m not much mistaken.” As I recall, the old one was threadbare and covered in coffee stains.

“Yeah, well. In for a penny, in for a pound.”

“Is it OK if I sit down? I’ve got some papers to show you.”

“Sure. He gestures towards a sofa – still the old one, I’m guessing. I sit down.”

“Thank you. As I say, what this is about is that we’re planning some changes to the rental agreement that I wanted to explain to you. They’re all pretty minor – mostly changes to notice periods, that sort of thing. We’re putting them in place across all our properties, so I’m having this conversation with all 43 of our tenants. Been a busy couple of weeks, I can tell you! I’ve got a copy of the draft agreement here. I hand it over to him. He takes it without responding.

“So, I’ll talk you through the changes one by one.”

As I’m explaining the document and what has changed, I can’t help noticing a brown stain, a couple of inches across, on the otherwise pristine blue carpet.

“Oh, that’s a shame,” I say.


“A brand new carpet, and there’s already a stain on it. You must have dropped some beer or something on it, I guess. Always happens that way, doesn’t it? Still, I’m sure you’ll be able to get rid of it with some stain remover.”

“Yeah, I suppose.” He doesn’t say anything more, but I can see that it bothers him.

“Anyway, I think I’ve covered everything. I’ll leave you the copy of the rental agreement to puruse further at your leisure. Feel free to give me a ring if there’s anything you’d like to discuss. Othewise, I’ll come back in a couple of days with another copy for you to sign.”

He nods, and I make my way out.


When I return, two days later, he is expecting me. The flat is still spick and span. And, as I go into the living room, the carpet is now green, not blue. Gosh, that stain must have really annoyed him. But as I’m waiting for him to sign, I happen to glance down at the carpet, and there is still a stain there, same size, same colour, in exactly the same place.

“I hate to say this, Mr Weston, but you’ve got a stain on your new carpet again.”

“What? Oh no!”

This can’t be just coincidence, I’m thinking. I look up at the ceiling and there, directly above the stain on the carpet is another one. I can see a bulb of liquid beginning to form on it.

“There’s your problem, Mr Weston. You’ve obviously got some kind of leak in the loft. A rusted pipe, by the looks of it. Good news for you is that leaks outside the flat itself are the landlord’s responsibility. If that’s what it is, you might even get a refund for your carpet. I’d better go up and have a look. … Mr Weston?”

He is nowhere to be seen. But I can hear some rummaging going on in the kitchen. At last, he returns. For reasons best known to himself, he is carrying a kitchen knife and a hammer.

“I don’t think you should try and fix it yourself, Mr Weston. I’ll call the office and get a plumber in. But first, I need to go up to the loft and have a look.”

As he walks towards me, there is a strange look in his eyes, almost of regret.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he says.


A Visit to Nîmes

Today I’m delighted to host a visit from fellow Crooked Cat author Angela Wren.

Welcome Angela!  What would you like to talk to us about today?

Hello Tim, and thanks for inviting me onto your blog today.

I thought I’d take you and your regular readers with me to the city of Nîmes. A city of some 150,000 inhabitants in the Occitanie region of southern France. It sits on a low level plain between the edge of the massif central and the Mediterranean coast. It is said to be the sunniest place in France and it claims to have the most days of sunshine every year. Unfortunately on the day I arrived it was raining!

I want to take you first to L’Arène, the roman amphitheatre that sits in the heart of the city. To one side is the Palais de Justice, on the other a newly built museum. Boulevard Victor Hugo, with all its city traffic is a few feet away and elsewhere this amazing structure is faced by hotels, restaurants and shops. Everything you would need in a city.


The amphitheatre is almost 2000 years old and was probably built around the same time as its twin in Arles, around the 1st/2nd centuries AD. Used in roman times to entertain the people, gladiators fought here until 404 when these contests were forbidden. Oh, and when you next watch the film Spartacus, don’t believe everything you see. That thumbs down sign to signify the kill – not totally accurate, apparently. Gladiators were skilled fighters. They were highly trained men and they were prized. They were the property of the men who owned the training schools. So, if one of your gladiators received the sign for the kill, his ‘owner’ could claim compensation to cover his loss. Mostly, when a combat was clearly at its limit, the sign to sheath weapons – with the hand palm upwards, the thumb across the palm and the fingers wrapped over it – would be given. But, I suppose as far as the director of Spartacus was concerned, that just doesn’t have the same dramatic impact, does it?


Despite its great age, this fabulous monument is still used today for fairs, rock and pop concerts and bull fighting. There are three ferias a year, February, Witsun is the longest and most well known, and the last is in September. The city, at these times, is full to overflowing. Nîmes is one of the few places outside of Spain to hold formal authorisation for Spanish bull fights. But there two sides to every story. There is a statue that stands outside the amphitheatre. Christian Montcouquiol (1954 – 1991), born in Germany, was a French Matador known as Nimeño II as a result of a contest in Nîmes in 1989. In a subsequent contest, in the bullring in Arles he received severe injuries from which he never fully recovered and, in 1991, Christian committed suicide.

From the amphitheatre it is a short walk along Boulevard Victor Hugo to Café Napoleon and an opportunity for a sit down, some coffee and some fabulous décor to look at! Well, when in Nîmes…


You can learn more about Angela and her books via her

Angela’s novel Merle, the latest story in the Jacques Forêt Messandrierre, both mystery stories set in France, are available from Amazon

Swallow Song

I posted here a couple of weeks ago about the Holmfirth Arts Festival, which runs from 14-17 June.  That post mentioned that I, among others, had contributed words that were being set to music by composer Barry Russell for Sing Holmfirth, a choral event with musical accompaniment, in celebration of the Holme Valley.

So I thought I’d share the lyrics of a song I’ve written for Barry that will feature in the concert.  This is a novel experience for me – I’ve written many songs in the past but always written the music myself, and often asked someone else to write the lyrics.  I think this is the first time I’ve written lyrics for someone else’s music.  The icon (and to some extent, the theme) of the festival is a swallow, so I thought I’d write about a swallow that has returned to the Holme Valley from its winter migration.  Here goes …


Swallow Song


This was my birthplace, long ago

but do not ask me how I know;

no sooner had my life begun

than I flew south to seek the sun.


I lived well and grew fast and strong,

forgetting where I once belonged.

Somehow I knew I could not stay

I felt an urge to fly away.


And so I left the southern lands

I crossed the burning desert sands

the unforgiving endless sea

the waves I thought must swallow me.


At last the shore brought me release

I put down in a place of peace

and plenty. I felt something more:

a sense of being here before.


A voice held deep in memory

had come to life, was calling me

and now new purpose filled my wings

to make new life, to soar, to sing.


I saw this moor, these fields, this stone

the voice inside said ‘this is home’.

Six thousand miles and more I flew

to find this place and sing for you.


Anyway, I hope that’s helped whet your appetite for the Sing Holmfirth concert (3pm on Sunday 17 June in Victoria Park, Holmfirth – free entry!).  And by the way, I’ll be co-leading a creative writing workshop in Holmfirth Library at 3 o’clock on Saturday the 16th.


swallow pic: (c) Sannse 2004

Welcome, Joan!

Today fellow Crooked Cat author Joan Livingston is visiting to talk about herself and her crime novel Chasing the Case, published on 18 May.

Welcome, Joan!  Tell us about your novel, Chasing the Case.

Chasing the Case is the first in the Isabel Long mystery series. Isabel Long, who tells the story, is a longtime journalist turned amateur P.I. In fact, her first case is also her first big story she had as a rookie reporter. Adela Collins, 38, walked home from her family’s general store and no one saw her again. Her car was found two months later on a logging road in the middle of the woods. Her disappearance hit the family and those who knew her hard. How could a woman disappear from a town of a thousand people? Isabel should know. She lives there. Isabel has the time — she lost her job running a newspaper — and a Watson, her 92-year-old mother who comes to live with her. She relies on the skills she used as a journalist to try solving the case. And she also gets a part-time job bartending at the Rooster, the local watering hole where many of the people connected to the case hang out.

Chasing the Case cover

What led you to write it?

Like all of my other books, I just sat down and started writing. Or rather it started writing itself.

As a crime novel, it’s a departure from your previous work. Is this a change of direction, or do you see yourself continuing to write in more than one genre?  

The short answer is yes. Actually I have a number of books I’ve finished but not published. They are more literary. Then there is a middle-grade series using magical realism and a bilingual book series for kids.

Before signing on with Crooked Cat Books, I self-published. Peace, Love, and You Know What is a comedy set in the early ’70s. Turn on, tune in, and then what? That’s the question facing these college kids. But first they’ll escape to a three-day graduation bash.

The Sweet Spot is a serious book set in a rural area in 1978. Edie St. Claire is the young widow of a man killed in Vietnam. When an affair with her married brother-in-law turns tragic, the town turns against her.

Right now, I’m hooked on the Isabel Long series. The next, Redneck’s Revenge will be out Sept. 30. I am working on the third. But who know will inspire me after that?

You used to be a journalist. Has that helped your fiction writing?

Yes, it did. First, it helped break a twenty-five-year writers block.

But I am also grateful because as a journalist I had to listen to what people said and write it down. I also observed the way they behaved. I believe that experience helps me create realistic characters and dialogue.

What other interests or facts about your life would you like to share with the readers?

I’m a person who likes change. Our most recent was leaving Taos, New Mexico after 11years to move back to Western Massachusetts, where my husband, Hank, and I raised six kids. This time we moved to Shelburne Falls, which is a lively village.

What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

Whenever I got that question from reporters, I used to say: if you could be any animal in the forest, which one would you be?

And what is the answer?

Definitely a panther.



Twitter: @joanlivingston



Litsy: JoanLivingston



Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Chasing the Case, published by Crooked Cat Books, is her first mystery and the first in a series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.

After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including Chasing the Case and its sequels.